What If Arianism Had Won?

What If Arianism Had Won? April 22, 2014

Diarmaid MacCulloch lectures on this speculative alternative history, covering a lot of interesting real history in the process. HT Mike Bird.

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  • Andrew Dowling

    I think they were certainly closer to the theology of Jesus and had more Scriptural support than the Trinitarians. It’s funny when you read about the theology of people like Arius and Pelagius . . people basically demonized by collective Church history, and realize these were earnest, good men with better arguments than the eventual “winners” who in turn wrote the history.

  • redpill99

    personally a more interesting what if is marcionism since with books like drunk with blood most of the objectionable content is in the OT (with exception of NT doctrine of hell and satan)

    no OT and redacted NT would have made for an interesting history

  • Obscurus

    *sigh* What a load of rubbish. It’s amazing how even professional church historians apparently cannot see that Arianism, and not Catholicism, was the imperial form of Christianity at the time. Arianism would never even came about if Arius did not have full support of Eusebius of Nicomedia, Constantine’s cousin and court bishop. Arius was continually protected by the imperial government, even after his teachings were condemned at Nicea in 325. He would have been accepted back into the church – on the order of the emperor, with absolutely no strings attached – had he not died suddenly. Constantine was baptized as an arian on his death-bed. All his successors were crypto-arians. The most powerful position in the church at the time was not the pope in Rome, but the imperial patriarch in Constantinopole – and all of the patriarchs were arians for the better part of the 4th century, selected and appointed at the court of arian emperors. Bishops who openly opposed arianism – Athanasius being prime example – faced continual persecution from the imperial government, something arians themselves apparently didn’t have to worry about much. Goths converted to arianism mostly by serving in the imperial arimes (the story of Wulfilas largely being fable from later ages), and later on, when they formed independent kingdoms in Europe, kept their arianisam only as a political tool to distinguish themselves from the Eastern Roman Empire who by now became orthodox.

    Arianisam did not have any wide support in the church. It was a state-sponsored cult, indeed, the very first attempt at Cesaro-papism, and it failed in the east as soon as the imperial dynasty changed at the time of Theodosius. It had even less chance to win in the west, where the imperial government completely collapsed in short time. And even the Goths eventually converted to Catholicism.

  • Dr. McGrath, You write, “The God of the earliest Christians was presumed by
    most to be the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. This
    certainly was the universal and fundamental assumption of all the NT authors and apparently of Jesus himself. Any study of the NT which begins with a radical disjunction between Jews and Christians in this period on the issue of God is in all likelihood mistaken.” The One True God, p. 102.

    You seem to call in question here the undoubted NT central and pervasive
    teaching that true faith MUST be based on the teaching of Jesus, who is our
    final authority and provides the standard for our future judgment.

    How then is is legitimate to endorse the later Trinitarian creed which was never endorsed by Jesus or Paul?

    • You seem to call in question here the undoubted NT central and pervasive teaching that true faith MUST be based on the teaching of Jesus, who is our final authority and provides the standard for our future judgment.

      I don’t just call it into question, I question whether it is undoubted/central/pervasive in the way that you suggest. That is not only because we simply cannot have a Christianity today that adheres to Jesus’ teaching that the end would come within the lifetime of his hearers, but also because he seems to have been more concerned with the attitudes and actions of non-Jews with whom he interacted than sorting out their theology.

      • Dr. McGrath, Thanks so much, and also for opening up the conversation in a different direction.

        You see, in your book you do argue that the NT presents a unitary, non-Trinitarian, creed. You object, and I think delightfully well that Wright and Hurtado are mistaken in trying to reformulate the Shema in I Cor 8.

        But the NT does not set a date on Jesus’ returning.

        Acts 1 is quite clear that the times and seasons are not known.

        “This generation” cannot therefore mean “within 40 years”.

        In Mark 8 “this evil system” (genea) is contrasted with the time after the Parouis, i.e., the coming Kingdom.

        The use of genea for “age” is clear in the Hebrew Bible too, or for
        “brood”—a type of society characterized in this case as evil.

        • If you read Luke-Acts, you will see for instance in that author’s reworking of Mark 13 how the idea of the end being near is deliberately disassociated from Jesus. The prediction Jesus makes is about Jerusalem’s desolation, and those who come falsely in his name say not only “I am he” but also “the time is near.” That is quite a revision from Jesus’ statement, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God dawn with power” – or, as Matthew puts it, “until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom.”

          • So then Luke 21.31 is about the parousia? Or AD70?

          • In the context of Luke, Luke seems to be taking Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple and seeking to separate it from the prediction of the end.

          • Thanks, Dr. McGrath, but why does not Luke do what Mark and Matthew do, ie connect the Parousia with the immediately preceding Gt Tribulation?

            This scheme is precisely based on Daniel who has the GT Trib just before the resurrection (12:1-2)

            What makes one think that Luke has changed the story?

            What makes one think that the trouble in Jerusalem is not exactly as Zech 12:3 LXX?

            Nothing in Luke suggests that there are 2000 years between the Gt Trib and following arrival of the Kingdom in Luke 21:31?

          • Have you looked at Luke side by side with Mark, which Luke used as a source, to see exactly what he altered?

          • The scheme common to Matthew, Mark and Luke is found in Daniel and assumed by the question of the disciples. They all knew that there would be trouble in the Temple in connection to an unparalleled Tribulation followed IMMEDIATELY by the Parousia.

            Why don’t commentators follow Jesus’ instructions to read Daniel as the source of the Abomination? If they did they would find the Great Tribulation and the Abomination which triggers it, exactly as Jesus unpacks it in the Olivet Prophecy.

            What cannot be done is to chop up the discourse and divide it between 70AD and future Parousia. The time markers forbid this. Especially in Matthew 24.

          • We cannot discuss “exactly” what “Jesus” unpacks until we discuss the differences between the Gospels, including Luke’s attempt to deal with the fact that the destruction of the temple had not been followed by the Parousia as had been expected.

          • Thanks, the destruction of the temple is future in the Olivet

            The Abomination of Desolation (the surrounding of Jerusalem in
            Luke) triggers the Gt Trib of Dan. 12:1 and Matt. 24:21.

            We cannot discuss the discourse until we agree with Jesus to understand Daniel who is the basis of this discourse.